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Scarlet Pelargonium

Pelargonium inquinans, Scarlet Pelargonium; Wilde Malva (Afrikaans)


This 1-2 metre high multi-branched, semi-succulent stemmed shrub is a must in any garden or balcony in the Durban area. The plants want to live in full sun. They will survive in partial shade but flowering will be less intense during the peak time of October through to about December. If plants are well-fed and watered, they will reward the care you give them by flowering for most of the year. The masses of showy red blooms (the original wild colour form - the pink and white flowered forms came later), have become popular with gardeners. This species was taken back to Britain in the early 1700s where hybrids were produced using this species. They have graced flowerbeds, balconies and window boxes around the world with their brightness since then. The plants are semi-deciduous, survive moderate frost and are a great addition to any herbaceous border.
The round, crinkled leaves are attached to a longish leaf stalk that is then attached to the stems of the plant. These leaves have a distinct pungent but not unpleasant smell that tells you that the plant is a Pelargonium. The strong smell of the leaves tends to keep diseases and pests at bay too.
The bright red flowers are stunning and stand out where ever they are seen. I enjoy using the wild form of the plant as a surprise or accent for a planting scheme. When not in flower, the plants blend into the background but when in flower, the plants jump out at you.

As a roof garden plant this species is a winner. Most of the other plants tend to be succulent and look the part of living in a harsh environment, whereas this species is soft and delicate-looking, but can take the harsh winds and sunlight in its stride. In fact, many of the Pelargoniums that hail from the Eastern or winter rainfall Western Cape regions, will survive better in our coastal, sub-tropical, summer rainfall climate if they are growing on an exposed hot roof top, in sandy well-drained soil. The shallow soils dry out and help to stop fungi and other pathogens from invading the plants via the soft fleshy stems and leaves in our hot humid climate.

The scarlet pelargonium is easily grown from cuttings. Cut off a stem about 30cm long, trim off all but one of the leaves and push the cut stem into the soil or sand. Within two to three weeks, roots will have formed and the cutting begins to resprout. To maintain plant vigour, use plenty of organic matter in the soil and prune off dead leaves and flower stems regularly to encourage further flowering. 



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